A huge love emerged for the modest man and his great music

By Ivy, North London

Let me ask you this: have you ever heard of Saleh al Kuwaity when you were growing up in Baghdad? The likelihood is that no, who is he? Why, the media never told us his name while all of Baghdad was humming his songs… such perfidy.

Despair not my friend because finally on his Hundredth, Saleh has been accorded his position of prominence once again: he is now recognized by the Masters of the Maqam as a near genius for composing most of Iraq’s songs in the Twentieth Century and yes they are still being played on the radio . We were all gathered for a delightful concert in SOAS where the important ones acknowledged openly the great debt that his country, Iraq, owes him- that from him emanated a fountain of knowledge and innovation to nurture the Iraqi musicians and its singers for a long, long time.

If you were an Iraqi Jew and we filled half the hall, you would have swelled with pride at this unexpected turn of events. It is good to know that one of us, I mean that “we” contributed so positively to the country, why we formed its backbone in more ways than one, and didn’t we always say so?

It became a double good feeling when Mr Mukhtar presented Shlomo the musician’s son with a token glass figure in appreciation of his father’s multiple musical talents.

The chalgi and the singer dedicated the whole evening to playing from Saleh’s vast repertoire. Always, always the heart soared and the spirit lifted at the merest strumming of this old music and tonight turned to be yet another wondrous example. Time after time the singer led and we followed, he waited for us to sing one verse which we knew by heart, and then he sang the other, till the hall reverberated with a fusion of memories and Tarab pure and sonorous. The undisputed climax came when two girls merrily mounted the stage to swing to the catchy tunes while the audience stood on its feet begging for one last song from Ismail. Is this a practical occupation in the midst of a credit crunch and terrorism? No not really; enjoyable? Without the shadow of a doubt.

Now that Saleh has been billed to be a son of Iraq and his art fused into its culture, does that mean that he will cease to belong to us his estranged community, will he be requisitioned away from us? And will his be the same fate as our other Iraqi possessions taken away from us without a nod of acknowledgement even?

No, no. Anyone who has seen Saleh’s blissful expression while he was playing his beloved violin cannot be allowed to descend into such pessimism. The answer lies rather in the nature of music, feted to be enjoyed by all even across artificial borders; the happy celebrations revealed how it can provide the best synthesis between the nations, no matter their religions or politics.... No higher medium exists to draw the souls together. Music plays magic, let the music play on!

With thanks to the organizers Niran, Emile and Eli for some serious commitment, and Linda for originally coming up with the idea.